To Infinity and Beyond
Step inside Dave Roman’s wildly funny and inventive Astronaut Academy and you’ll meet an eclectic cast of characters all ready for their space-time closeup. We talked to Dave about what went into making this fun, adventurous graphic novel. Here’s what he had to say.
How would you describe Astronaut Academy?
Astronaut Academy is a futuristic school with a strong emphasis on bold statements, run-on sentences, cuteness, and whimsy. Students wear their hearts on their sleeves, and in most cases have multiple hearts, thanks to advances in video game-inspired biotechnology. There are also bunnies and robots!
What was your inspiration for the art style in the book? It’s a bit manga-esque, but it’s also got a distinct American feel to it.
Well, I love Japanese anime and product mascots (like Hello Kitty) and American newspaper comic strips (which is how I first fell in love with reading!). As a kid, I taught myself to draw by copying Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, and The Far Side. In art school I discovered comic book artists like Andi Watson, was enthralled by Lane Smith's picture books, and spent a lot of time in Korean stationery stores buying cute products just for the artwork. All these things kind of fused into my own personal art style, with a goal of creating simple but iconic characters.
What was your inspiration for this series?
I wanted to tell a sci-fi comedic ensemble story in a school setting, where you got into the heads of eclectic characters. With most series, like Harry Potter, my favorites are the quirky side characters like Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood. So in Astronaut Academy, Hakata Soy’s arrival is the entry point to the story, but continues by passing the baton to the other students he encounters. Each character gets a moment in the spotlight, offering their unique take on the new kid, Hakata, and the world around them.
Were any of the teachers or students at Astronaut Academy based on people you’ve known in real life?
Probably not the Spanish-speaking panda or the magical elf…but the emotions and insecurities the kids go through are pulled directly from my own adolescence. Like Maliik Mehendale, who has a crush on a girl who sits in front of him in math class. That’s definitely based on my middle school romances! I’d often obsess over people I didn’t have the courage to speak to.
Who are some of your favorite characters in the book?
Right now, I’d say Maribelle Mellonbelly is the most fun to write, because of her boastful personality. When I made the book trailer, an actress named Diana Owen performed some of Maribelle’s lines: “I’m SO rich, I don’t even NEED an education…but I still opt to go here, just for the thrill of being THE BEST.” Her delivery was spot on, and it cracks me up to hear the dialog from the book read out loud.
What can you tell us about the sequel, Astronaut Academy: Re-entry?
Book 1 introduces the diverse cast of students and their relationships to one another. For me, the fun of Book 2 is seeing how they grow and change. There’s a mysterious creature on the loose, impersonating our heroes and forcing them to question their own identities. We finally learn Hakata Soy’s secret origin and get a glimpse of Miyumi San’s and Doug Hiro’s lives outside school. There’s also a big Fireball competition, which, because of the battle armor and asteroid stadium, will be the most complicated thing I’ve ever had to draw!
How many more books are you planning to do in this series?
I’m currently a quarter of the way through drawing Book 2 and have an outline written for the third. With Astronaut Academy, there are so many characters competing for time in the spotlight, there's quite a large universe left to explore!
What else are you working on?
Teen Boat! with my longtime collaborator, John Green. It’s a comedy/adventure graphic novel about a boy who can transform into a small yacht. Teen Boat! started out as a series of mini-comics, but we’ve created a bunch of new material for the collection and the full-color pages are just going to blow people’s minds. It will be published in 2012, and I can’t wait for everyone to see it!